Higgins Boats

US marines in New Zealand

Higgins Boats

“The boat that won the war” is an accolade given to the Higgins boat, the name commonly used for the landing craft which Marines trained in - on the Kapiti Coast.

Higgins boats can frequently be seen in photographs and films recording landing exercises along the coast during WWII and the Sailors’ Memorial in Queen Elizabeth Park is based on the design of the craft.

These boats – more formally called LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) – were a key component of the Allied campaign in both the Pacific and Europe. According to General Eisenhower, “If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.” He declared that “Andrew Higgins is the man who won the war for us.”

Key to the Higgins boat’s success were its flat bottom, light weight, and front ramp. These allowed it to get close to the shore and quickly land soldiers onto the beaches. A groove in the hull protected the boat’s propellers from sand and rocks and meant that, once its passengers were off, it could immediately reverse off the beaches, go back to the waiting ships, and return with its next load.

Apart from the steel forward ramp, the Higgins boat was mostly made of wood. This helped keep its weight down and meant that it could be produced cheaply and in high volume. It could take 36 combat-ready marines in its hold in front, with an additional 3-4 sailors to crew the boat. The boat also included two machine-guns at the back.

Higgins boats were initially designed and used for the shallow waters around the Gulf of Mexico. A key part of the boat’s story is Andrew Higgins himself, a larger-than-life American entrepreneur who managed to persuade the U.S. Marine Corps of the military merit of his boat. Higgins Industry expanded from a single New Orleans boatyard in 1938 employing fewer than 75 workers to seven boatyards in 1943 employing more than 25,000 workers. They produced more than 20,000 boats over the course of the war, including 12,500 LCVPs. Higgins Industry was also known for its progressive workforce practices, including paying equal wages for equal work, regardless of race, sex, age, or physical disability.

In the end though, while the boat was vital, it was “flesh and blood” that had to land on the beaches and take the enemy on. The lot of these soldiers has been very effectively captured in Steven Spielberg’s film, “Saving Private Ryan”.